MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team enters this week’s 2A Hardwood Classic in Yakima as a battle-tested squad with a proven ability to overcome adversity.
To reach this point, the Hawks had to rebound from one of the more demoralizing losses imaginable.
Coming off an outright Wesco 3A title and a 19-1 regular season, Terrace appeared well on its way to another victory during its 2A Northwest District tournament quarterfinal against Sedro-Woolley. The top-seeded Hawks held a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and were up by seven points in the game’s final minute.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, everything unraveled.
Terrace opened the door by missing the front end of three one-and-one free throws, and ninth-seeded Sedro-Woolley closed the gap before sinking an improbable, game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Keenan Hofstad’s wild, off-balance, spinning heave somehow fell through the rim, lifting the Cubs to a 53-51 win that left the Hawks in utter shock.
“It was really devastating,” Terrace senior Brendan Hayes said. “It was one of those losses that you just feel in your stomach. Sitting in that locker room (afterward), we were all just kind of distraught.”
The loss dropped Terrace to the loser’s bracket of a rugged district tournament loaded with talented teams. Suddenly, the Hawks’ success-filled season was in jeopardy.
“You get evaluated and judged (by) how you handle adversity,” longtime Terrace coach Nalin Sood said. “And for however many years I keep coaching, what I’ll think back on is how (this) team handled a real tough loss. That was as difficult a loss to deal with as you might ever have.”
The Hawks rebounded from the defeat with impressive victories in back-to-back district elimination games.
Terrace began with a 56-39 win over upstart Lakewood, holding the Cougars more than 26 points below their season average. That set up a winner-to-state, loser-out contest against Anacortes, which entered as the top-ranked team in the state’s 2A RPI rankings. Terrace prevailed in the heavyweight showdown, earning a 68-60 victory that secured the program’s seventh state tournament berth in the past eight seasons.
“We just showed what (type of) team we are and that one loss isn’t going to label us,” Hawks senior standout Khyree Armstead said.
“Credit to these young men,” Sood added. “It takes a unique group of kids — a unique basketball team — to handle that kind of adversity.”
Terrace (22-3) is looking to bounce back again after falling 66-48 to fourth-seeded Mark Morris in a 2A state regional contest this past Saturday.
“We lost to a good, very disciplined Mark Morris team,” Sood said. “But if you can rebound from it, wash the negatives and learn from the things you did wrong, then hopefully you can bounce back. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”
The fifth-seeded Hawks open the Hardwood Classic with a loser-out game against 13th-seeded Liberty at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Yakima Valley SunDome, with the winner advancing to Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Liberty (20-4) has won 10 straight games, including the 2A Northwest District tournament title.
“We’ve got a big task in front of us with Liberty, so that’s where our focus is right now,” Sood said. “These guys have big goals ahead of them, and it starts Wednesday.”
Terrace is once again thriving on a stingy defense this season, continuing a long trend of lockdown units under Sood. The Hawks allow just 48.1 points per game and have held all but three opponents to 60 points or less.
“You’ve got to have the right kids,” Sood said. “I don’t have any magic dust in my pocket that I can sprinkle. It’s a credit to our kids — their mental toughness, their competitiveness and their individual accountability. You’ve got to have those three things to be a great defensive team.”
“When you have five guys on the court that want to make sure their guy doesn’t score, it’s hard (for opponents) to get through all that,” Armstead added.
Sood pointed to Terrace’s second-half defensive performance in the regular-season finale against Marysville Pilchuck. After the Hawks allowed an uncharacteristic 33 points in the first half, Sood asked his players during halftime what it would take to win the game defensively. They responded with a goal of holding the Tomahawks to 50 total points.
“I just sort of laughed,” Sood said. “I said, ‘Can you guys do the math? I mean, they’re at 33 right now.’”
Yet the Hawks finished just two points away from their target number, yielding a mere 19 second-half points in a lockdown defensive showing that ultimately secured the Wesco 3A crown.
“That sort of blew me away,” Sood said. “(Those are) the kids I get to coach. That’s a statement about them and their competitiveness to make that happen.”
Terrace is led by the versatile 6-foot-4 Armstead, who has showcased his elite athleticism this season while averaging 18 points, a team-high 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He played point guard as a sophomore and wing as a junior before moving around to a variety of positions this season.
“You can put him at any position on the court,” Sood said. “You can fill him in wherever you need to and he’ll go be successful.
“He’s guarded inside and he’s guarded other (teams’) best perimeter players. And when we’ve needed him, he’s played point guard to give us a different look. (He’s) a luxury to have.”
Hayes is another versatile force for the Hawks. The 6-foot-4 forward averages 12.3 points per game and shoots 36 percent from 3-point range, while also blocking 2.2 shots per contest.
“How many kids are really good inside defensively (at) contesting and blocking shots, and yet are as good as anybody on the court shooting the perimeter 3-point shot?” Sood said. “That shows Brendan’s skill set.”
Junior forward Mason Petersen averages 9.6 points per game and shoots 44 percent from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Mason Christianson adds 8.3 points per contest and senior point guard Keegan Grayson-Zehrung provides a team-high four assists per game.
Senior guard Connor Williams averages 8.4 points per game as Terrace’s first player off the bench, but has been sidelined during the postseason after undergoing surgery to repair a broken nose.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that maybe we can still get him for this week,” Sood said.
The Hawks said playing in a 3A conference — and battling through possibly the toughest 2A district in the state — benefits them heading into Yakima.
“Night after night in Wesco 3A, our kids knew they had to bring their best game or they were going to flat-out get beat,” Sood said. “And that made us prepared for really tough (district elimination) games. … You’ve got to have that switch flipped on every single night.”
After losing in the opening round of the Hardwood Classic last season, Terrace is striving to make a deeper run this time.
“We’re really focused,” Hayes said. “I believe we can do something special.”